Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Real Geniuses

Someone tweeted about this video the other day. The videos title is "2 Year Old Genius - Part 1 (World Capitals)". One of the comments made on the video was "prodigy, not a genius. a prodigy is someone who learns abnormally fast the things that are already known, a genius discovers new things." I am not going to talk about the difference between prodigy and geniuses – the commenter sort of nailed it in a sentence.

Here is what I thought was fascinating – lots of comments about how amazing this child is. But I wonder, if the child was able to match football teams with their cities, or pictures of dinosaurs with their names, would we be as impressed? Probably not. I have seen 2-year-olds do both things, and my reaction is "how cute." A child does this with country capitals and we are amazed. Similarly, if he were to do this with countries and currencies, we would think he was a genius, or intelligent or gifted. All of these words mean something different, but in America, we see them as sort of synonyms.

We value some information – country and state capitals (the 2-year-old can nail both Jeopardy categories), and other information – sports teams associated with mascots, for instance – we think of as more trivial.

If we had a child in school that was flunking a subject, we would rather they flunk art than English, social studies rather than math. And perhaps this has to do with how this information may help us in our future. Though I am a little fuzzy on how knowing state capitals will help us in business.

I also remember that when I was in elementary school, if a girl did not do well in English (I think it was called reading or language arts, actually), you could see panic on the teacher's faces. If a boy fell behind in reading, it was a bit more acceptable. Similarly if a girl did not do well in science, that was okay as well. And, actually, doing too well in science was social suicide. That was a boy's class.

In school, doing well did not automatically mean that you would do well in the "real world." I mean, the construct for school through high school and much of college focuses on individual effort. Although, there were a few classes where team-oriented work was graded, it was rare (and not done very precisely). How many had to work on a project with a partner, and the smarter of the two did practically the whole project so that he/she would get a grade he/she was used to getting?

I like school movies, or education movies. You know, like "Lean on Me", "Good Will Hunting", "Mr. [what's his name's] Opus". These movies inspire me. I don't watch a 2-year-old reciting state capitals and get chills. Just does not do it for me. But if the child could read at two – wow, I would be impressed. Or if the child could change the oil in my car, that would be something to see. I mean, they are short enough and generally don't mind getting dirty – but I am sure people might be upset, especially if he/her made his allowance by changing the oil for neighbors. But it would be useful, no arguments there.


LarryLilly said...

Go to a site called Shorpy dot com, and you can see small kids working not on cars, but in coal mines, steel mills and in your neck of the woods, textile mills.

good post as usual.

LarryLilly said...

shorpy site
and the namesake of the site, Shorpy hisself

Dominic said...

Mr. Holland's Opus.

If I had a car, I'd totally be teaching my kid (18 months) how to do an oil change. He'd think it was a game!

Dr. Deb said...


And yes, I like those kinda movies too.

Anonymous said...

My wife is doing there Ph.D. in early childhood education. In short, we push kids too hard. "Oh my gosh, my kid can't do math!!!" So?? How old is he, 4? He shouldn't do math. There's a guy named Elkind who has a few books, the most important is "The Hurried Child" or something like that. Basically, we're making kids into people who need therapy.

Anonymous said...


Grant said...

My ability to calculate the area under a curve is why I am now an IT professional and you are a lowly whatever you are. :p

Leesa said...

Larry: I was not trying to write about child labor laws. Very interesting links, though.

Dominic: It would be a game for him/her.

Dr. Deb: Thanks. I remembered a few minutes after the post, but by then I thought it was cuter to not change it.

Knot: I think you are correct. But at least the therapists will have work.

Grant: there is wisdom in your statement.

Anonymous said...

Although I haven't noticed a difference in genders, I definitely have noticed a difference in the subjects that parents find important. It is NOT ok for students to do poorly in math or reading these days. If a student doesn't do as well in science, social studies, spelling, grammar, etc, parents don't throw a fit.

But if a student comes home with a lower grade in reading or math, they want to conference. It's interesting.

SSC~ The Domestic Diva said...

Hey Leesa, Come claim your prize on my blog!

Malach the Merciless said...

That is not so impressive, I could do that

Malach the Merciless said...

and I am 37

Leesa said...

Jules: Probably not a difference in the sexes today, but there seemed to be differences when I was in elementary school.

SSC: A prize?

Malach: It would be impressive if you are American and can list world capitals.